Gap Year Days 253 – 257
I was excited as we arrived in Hong Kong! This was our second visit, and sort of a chance for Hong Kong to redeem itself. I felt a bit ambivalent about it after the first visit, but that was not the fault of Hong Kong itself. Last time we were here was right at the end of a month long whirlwind trip half way around the world and back and I had come down with a cold. The kids were with us, and two out of our three days were spent at Disneyland. I really wasn’t feeling good at all! The last day I mostly stayed in to rest. So really, I didn’t give it a chance. Now I could.
We arrived quite late at night and I was glad we had pre-purchased our tickets on the express train into Hong Kong Central (you can also buy them here!) where we were met by our AirBnB host and escorted to the apartment we had booked for the next four nights. I was looking forward to having time and our own space to relax, work and catch up with family on Christmas Day. You can therefore imagine my disappointment to discover the wifi did not work! How was I going to Facetime everyone on Christmas Day with no internet? Simon was just as mortified that no internet meant no tv either!
So the first job the next morning was to find somewhere with wifi and let our host know there was an issue. Luckily we were in Hong Kong, where nearly everywhere has wifi on offer for free. Within about 100m from out apartment we found a McDonalds, a Starbucks, 2 7Eleven’s and a supermarket all with free wifi! Our host was mortified, and an hour or so later had dropped off a mobile wifi modem and had arranged a technician to come out and fix the issue the next day! At a busy time of year I am amazed he was able to even get someone to do it!
With the wifi issue at least partially resolved, we spent the rest of the day poking around the area we were staying in. Last time we stayed in Kowloon, this time we were on Hong Kong Island, so it was all new. Just down the street from us was the Man Mo Temple so that was a great place to start. It was built in 1847 and is now wedged in between lots of tall buildings on Hollywood Road. This temple is well known for it’s huge coils of incense that hang burning from the roof. While I loved the look of these, it was actually really smoky inside and I found it made my eyes sting.
Next on my list were the Mid-Levels escalators. I had heard that the longest escalator in the world was here, taking people up into the hilly suburbs of Hong Kong. Or maybe that wasn’t exactly what I heard, but that’s what I understood. So I was a bit surprised to arrive at the bottom and to see firstly a moving walkway rather than an escalator, and that it only went a short distance. Then there was another walkway, again going only a short distance. But soon we started using escalators to get up steeper sections, but always they were short with sections of walking in between. That was fine by me, but it didn’t match up with my expectations.
When we got home later I googled and discovered what I probably actually read the first the first time was “the longest outdoor covered escalator SYSTEM!” (as per Wikipedia). It appears that last word is important! Oh, what is also probably important if you visit, is that the escalators are one way only! That means if you follow them all the way to the top, you have to walk back down the stairs to get back to your starting point. The escalators also run in the opposite way in the morning until 10am, so unless you want to climb the stairs up and ride the escalators down, early morning is not the time to visit!
We continued making our way down towards the Soho area, checking out the sidestreets and cute little cafes. This area seems to have every kind of restaurant you could possibly want. We were heading there to eat dinner at – surprise, surprise – the Hard Rock Cafe! It was still not quite dark when we went in, but when we came out after dinner the atmosphere outside had completely changed. This was now a busy bar area, with boutique bars pumping out the music and pushing their happy hour specials. The trendy young crowd was starting to emerge for a few early drinks to start their evenings.
We didn’t hang around to see how the night panned out, instead we again just walked around the streets, taking the long way back to our apartment. We came to Statue Square, and there was a huge, gold Christmas tree all lit up! There were crowds of people around it too, soaking up the Christmas atmosphere and getting those all important selfies. We half considered walking down to the harbour, but with an early morning, decided we could do that another night if we felt like it. We had seen the light show last time we were here so it wasn’t on the “must-do” list.
Also on our last visit we had attempted to catch the Peak Tram. We had checked in to our flight and dropped our luggage off at Hong Kong Central Station and made our way up the hill to the Peak Tram ticket office. Except it was so busy and the line was so long that we couldn’t even work out where the ticket office was. There was clearly going to be a long wait for tickets and then again for the tram, and we didn’t have enough time before our flight for that. So this trip, I finally took my favourite piece of advice – “go early”! The Peak Tram starts running at 7am, and because we were there on a Saturday, the Sky Terrace at the top opened at 8am (during the week it’s 10am). We arrived at the ticket office at about 7:30, and there was no line up at all. We jumped straight on the tram, and arrived at the Peak as the Sky Terrace opened.
We spent about half an hour at the top enjoying the view. There were probably only about twenty other people there for a lot of the time. The one downside was that it was a foggy morning and a lot of the fog was still blanketing the city meaning our views over the harbour were not pristine, but it was still a pretty decent view! We caught the tram back down again, and could already see the crowds building, with lots people waiting to get on the tram.
Next on our list was a visit to a delicatessan called Oliver’s that was luckily located near Hong Kong Central. Not that it would have mattered, even if Oliver’s was on the other side of Hong Kong we would have made our way there. Research had told me that this was the one place most likely to have the one essential food item that we carry with us – Vegemite! We searched up and down the aisles, and finally, there it was! Unfortunately only the large sized jar, but beggars can’t be choosers, so we snapped it up! Again for a premium. This 380g jar cost us almost $11AUD!
We made our way down to the Star Ferry terminal to catch the ferry across the harbour, again something we had not done on our last trip. When we arrived we walked along to where the Avenue of Stars usually is, but at the moment there is a huge renovation happening in the area so it’s all closed off. Instead we grabbed a coffee, before finding the nearest MTR station and gettng on a train to Lantau Island.
We rode the train right to the end stop of Tung Chung. From here, to get to the Big Buddha, it’s either a local bus ride, or the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. All the way here I intended to get the bus, but once we arrived, we changed our minds. In hindsight, we probably should have caught the bus! There was a huge line up for the cable car. But the problem was, the line was very deceiving! It didn’t look very long, but once we got to the end of the line, no ticket booth – instead we were sent across the road to join another line! This one was also long, but again, an acceptable length. The only problem with this line, was that it ended at the bottom of an escalator. Staff members were stopping people here, and sending them up only a few at a time. And what was at the top? Yep, you guessed it, another line! All up it was nearly two hours before we got tickets, then we joined the line to get on the cable car! Arrghhh!
My advice for anyone who wants to do this will come as no surprise – go early! If you don’t want to go early, there are a couple of other options we noticed while we were standing in line (we had plenty of time to notice things!). Firstly you can buy one of the crazy “skip the line packages” you will be offered. It was more than double the regular price, and it only got you onto the end of the third line, so there still would have been a decent wait. The second option I noticed only once were go to the ticket office – there was a dedicated line and entry for anyone who had prepurchased tickets through Klook (an online booking site popuar in Asia). If you would like to look into this option further, here are the details.
The cable car ride is probably the longest I have ever been on. It takes you across a couple of different islands, and gives great views over the airport and the whole surrounding area, including views of the Big Buddha as you get closer to it. If you want to pay a bit extra you can ride in one of the crystal cabins which has a clear floor, so you can see directly below you the whole time too. But be warned – there are not as many of these cabins, and the line up for them on the way up was much longer than the regular cabins.
Okay, confession time! As it’s getting further through our trip I am getting worse and worse at researching what we are doing. I guess this is somewhat due to time constraints, but it is also me letting go a bit of the “control freak” in me too. It’s also no longer as scary to just do something. We normally figure it out as we go, and if we get it wrong, well, it’s all part of the experience (Did you read about our disaster in India?). So I knew there was a Big Buddha on Lantau Island, and I wanted to visit. Apart from that I had no idea what else was here. Well, I should have researched, because a couple of hours was not enough time here. The cable cars only run until 6pm on weekdays, 6:30 on other days, but sometimes this can change. (There are also some days they don’t run due to service – check the “special Announcements” box on the website if you want updates)
As we got off the cable car we made our way into a little village. It’s a fake village set up for tourism, containing mostly restaurants and souvenir stalls, but because this was the day before Christmas, it had all sorts of Christmassy things set up too, and lots of cute photo opportunities. Again, probably due to the holidays, it was very crowded. We had hoped to grab a late lunch here. We were starving thanks to our long wait in line. But with little space to stop and eat, we kept moving towards the Buddha. We found a little local food place not much further on and grabbed some satays and fish balls to tide us over.
As we made our way up the steps to the Big Buddha it was almost blinding to look at him! No, not some powerful religious phenomenon, rather the sun was right behind his head! This means all the photos I took were appalling, so you will have to forgive me. Another good reason to go early in the morning!
Near the bottom of the Big Buddha is the Po Lin Monastery. There are a few interesting buildings to look around at with some colourful, traditional patterns and dragons. Again the whole place was engulfed by incense, so I tended to stay outside of the buildings. I was fascinated by the incense though. There were so many people placing it in the appropriate places out the front of the moanstery that there was also someone going along and discretely removing the partially burned incense sticks so that there was always room for more. The size of some of them amazed me too. Some of them would easily have been as tall as me.
We looked around this area for a while longer before we joined the long lineup for the cable car once more. Next time I am in Hong Kong I will come to Lantau Island again, but instead of staying just in this area, I will catch a bus or hike to the nearby fishing village and explore there. I also saw mention of boat trips to see pink dolphins, so I will look into that more too.
On our way home we tested out a dim sum place just down the road from where we were staying. It was mostly locals eating there, but one or two other visitors too. We ordered a few different things from the menu, and as usual, they were absolutely delicious. I love these places, they are fast and cheap and tasty. What more could we want?
Refueled, we were off on our next mission. Simon needed a new book to read, and we had walked past a second hand bookshop the previous evening. We knew it was open until 7pm, so we just had time to get there. If you are in the Hong Kong Central area and in need of some reading material, call in to Flow Bookshop. They had a good selection of English novels, amongst a whole pile of other books. It’s on Queens Road Central where it meets Wellington Street. Normally we are able to pick up books on swap shelves in places we stay, but hadn’t come across any lately. This was the first time on our trip either of us had to purchase a book.
On our way home we had just one more stop – we had to get some egg waffles! We had passed a place called “Addies” earlier that had turned them from a quick and tasty street food to a gourmet dessert! Not only do they have egg waffles, but mine also included gelato, apple raisin compote, citrus jelly and cinnamon crumble! It was almost too much for me, but so delicious I had to finish it! We almost rolled back to the apartment, amusing ourselves with the fact that dessert had cost us significantly more than our dinner.
Christmas Day was spent doing a whole lot of nothing. We slept in, then I FaceTimed each of the kids and my parents. I did have to be somewhat brief as the technician had not fixed the wifi issue so I was still using the portable modem. (As an aside, our AirBnB host felt so bad about the lack of wifi and tv, not only did he arrange the modem, he also gave us a partial refund on our stay! Can’t ask for much more than that.)
Late afternoon we went out for a walk to stretch our legs, and decided while we were out that we may as well jump on a train and go to the Temple Street night market. We got there just as they were setting up, so it wasn’t too crowded yet. This market offers all the usual street market fare. There is clothes and bags, souvenirs of all kinds, phone covers and mini speakers. But of course the best part is all the food! We were cooking in that night for dinner, so we mostly resisted temptation – it was only a small serve of egg waffles this time!
And as always, our time in Hong Kong was so quickly over! I had really enjoyed myself this time, so it’s off the “ambivalent” list and I am sure we will be back again – to eat more of the food, if nothing else.
Hong Kong was much more fun than I remembered – but really that is not surprising. I am more likely to consider Hong Kong as a stopover location now than I did before. A couple of days here to eat dim sum sounds like a great way to start a holiday.
Hong Kong is not cheap. Accommodation in particular is expensive, but that is to be expected with the space issues in the city. And don’t expect rooms to be large, the apartment we stayed in was smaller than my bedroom at home. I’m sure there are plenty of high end restaurants, but we were able to find tasty local food at reasonable prices to fit our budget.
Transport in Hong Kong is both cheap and easy. Grab an Octopus card (you can even buy one in advance here) and you are all set. When you leave Hong Kong, you can hand it back in and get a refund for any unused credit. Like many other transport cards, there is a small admin cost of a few dollars but it is more than made up for by the convenience
Wifi was everywhere! At the airport, on the Airport Express train, on the ferry, as well as every shop and restaurant. After discovering it was available at 7Eleven’s it was so easy to stand outside and look something up (usually on Google Maps) I was probably a little bit too excited to be somewhere with good wifi that not only connected but actually worked too!
Oh, and in case you didn’t realise, I was so excited to discover Klook just before this visit to Hong Kong! I had never heard of them before, but came across them when searching for Hong Kong Express tickets. I was sold once I saw the special lane for them at Ngong Ping 360 and looked into them more. They offer great prices on so many attractions, tours, transport, SIM cards and even dining. Click through now to have a look at what is on offer in your next destination.
SoHo: Bright & High Floor 1 BedRm Flat in HK (AirBnB)
$154AUD ($123USD) per night
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.